The Coolest Thing You’ve Heard in a While…

In 2011, Google introduced its first ever science fair that challenged students ages 13-18 to answer the big questions they had about science, life, and how the world works.  Of course, many people have questions, but Google sought out the most curious minds from across the globe that went a step further and actually got answers.  After a long and grueling selection process, three winners were chosen in each of three age groups (13-14, 15-16, 17-18).  Notably and highly encouraging, all three were young women – a gender known for its general underrepresentation in the sciences.

In the 13-14 age group, Lauren Hodge studied the effects of marinades on potentially harmful carcinogens in grilled chicken.  As her prize, she received a $25,000 scholarship and an internship at LEGO.  In the 15-16 age group, Naomi Shah won for her study that showed how changes to indoor environments could improve the lives of asthma patients.  For her efforts, she was also awarded a $25,000 scholarship and a Google internship.  Finally, in the 17-18 age group, Shree Bose wowed the judges with her discovery of a way to improve cancer treatment for patients that have built up resistance to specific chemotherapy drugs.  She was awarded a $50,000 scholarship and an internship with CERN, the world-renowned Geneva-based laboratory that is the leader in particle physics and nuclear research.  The judges were impressed by the girls’  “intellectual curiosity, their tenaciousness and their ambition to use science to find solutions to big problems.” They recently met with President Obama  and also spoke at the TED Women conference in Los Angeles.

In other youth science news – that will also make readers feel quite inadequate – 17-year-old Taylor Wilson recently gave his own brief TED Talk about his short career as a…nuclear physicist? Yes, at the ripe age of 14 he built a nuclear fusion reactor in his garage, a technology he believes will be the future of energy. He has also developed special safety detectors for a few hundred dollars – which normally cost the Department of Homeland Security a few hundred thousand dollars.  Taylor has even found ways to develop medical isotopes at small scale.  He says, “I started out with a dream to make a star in a jar, and I ended up…making things that I think can change the world.”

Much of the debate surrounding science and technology education in the United States is resoundingly negative. Our test scores lag, we produce fewer bachelors and advanced degrees in the sciences, fewer children have a passion for science.  All this, many predict, will lead to America’s innovative decline; we will no longer be able to compete in the area that made our economy so strong.  But seeing competitions like those of Google or First Robotics, the passion shown by those three young women, and the curiosity of Taylor should give pause to those naysayers.  These young people are also evidence of how American institutions like equal opportunity and individual freedom foster what remains the best environment for innovation and creativity the world has ever seen.  They will be the ones to invent the future and are a source of hope and inspiration for America’s competitive future.  Like TED says, these are certainly ideas worth spreading.

Posted by Brian Gowen

Sources: Google, TED, The New York Times, Albert Einstein Distinguished Educator Fellowship Program

Photo credit Fayette County Science Fair courtesy of flickr user DrBacchus

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Partnering Scientists and Teachers: Priming the STEM Pipeline

The Program on America and the Global Economy Presents:

Partnering Scientists and Teachers:

Priming the STEM Pipeline

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

9:00 – 10:30 a.m.

5th Floor Conference Room, Woodrow Wilson Center

Something powerful happens when teachers and students work side-by-side with scientists and engineers. They come to understand the practice of science and engineering, while scientists and engineers learn to communicate their work in a way that makes sense to the public. These types of partnerships are being recommended by a series of recent legislative initiatives and STEM organizations. Our panel will discuss first-hand experience with teacher-scientist partnerships and how they can strengthen K-12 STEM education.

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Richard Boone, Professor of Ecosystem Ecology at the University of Alaska-Fairbanks; DaNel Hogan, Albert Einstein Distinguished Educator Fellow, and Teacher, Kuna High School, Idaho; Dave Oberbillig, Albert Einstein Distinguished Educator Fellow, and Teacher, Hellgate High School, Montana; Tim Spuck, Albert Einstein Distinguished Educator Fellow, and Teacher, Oil City Area High School, Pennsylvania; Horace Walcott, Josh Westin Research Mentor, Brooklyn Technical High School, New York; Sarah Young, Albert Einstein Distinguished Educator Fellow, and Teacher, Rowland Hall Middle School, Utah

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Please RSVP acceptances only to page@wilsoncenter.org

Directions to the Wilson Center can be found here.

Posted by: PAGE Staff

Event Summary: The New Cool

The following is an event summary from an event hosted bt the Program on America and the Global Economy.

On Wednesday, March 2nd, The Program on America and the Global Economy (PAGE) hosted author Neal Bascomb for a discussion of  his new book about a team of high school robot builders and their quest to win the ‘For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology’ (FIRST) robotics competition.  Bascomb is, a prolific and versatile author, having written books on a wide variety of subjects including Nazi-hunting in Argentina and the competition to build the world’s tallest skyscraper.  The New Cool follows a high school team of rookie robot builders from California over a period of six weeks as they build, wire, and program a machine to battle in a robotics competition with over 2,000 entrants.  Kent Hughes, director of PAGE, moderated the event.

Bascomb was motivated to write the book after hearing a vignette about FIRST founder Dean Kamen.  Kamen, inventor of the Segway, a portable dialysis machine, and a wheel chair that can climb stairs among other devices, founded the robotics competition to encourage high school students to consider pursue scientific careers.  Kamen decided to embarks on this quest after the unfortunate failure of a number of local schoolchildren to name a single living scientist.after realizing that most kids couldn’t name a living scientist  The object of the competition is to bring science and engineering a level of excitement and passion similar to school sports.  In the long run, Kamen hopes to add scientists and engineers to the pantheon of recognizable American heroes.  Bascomb originally intended to write a magazine article on the subject, but when he saw firsthand the potential to galvanize student interest nationwide in engineering, he decided a book was warranted. Read more of this post

Partnering with Business: The Changing Role of Business in Education

The following is an event summary from a program held by the  Program on America and the Global Economy at the Woodrow Wilson Center.

On March 2, a panel of Albert Einstein Distinguished Fellows focused on The Changing Role of Business in Education. Educators from across the nation, the Fellows serve in offices on Capitol Hill and in several federal departments.  They discussed ways that business partnerships are enabling new and innovative educational practices in their school districts.  Kent Hughes, director of the Program on America and the Global Economy, moderated the panel.

Hughes introduced the topic by referring to previous efforts at partnerships between business and education, such as the Business Roundtable’s assignment of two CEO’s to each governor in the wake of the education summit called by President George H.W. Bush.  Hughes commented that “being involved in education is one of the best forms of enlightened self-interest because today’s students are tomorrow’s engineers, the next generation of technical workers, and the next generation of informed citizens.”

The first panelist to speak was Brenda Gardunia, who has twenty years of experience teaching high school math in Idaho.  She described ways in which a partnership with a technical center in her area has allowed students to focus more on transitioning to a career, including through competitive paid internships.  “We must realize that not all students are going to go to an academic college,” she said.  According to Gardunia, partnerships between schools and businesses have advantages for both sides, with students gaining real world experience and businesses gaining a deeper pool of potential employees.  Gardunia also argued that these partnerships have strengthened community ties and have inherent public relations advantages.  Most importantly, through the teaching of these “21st Century Skills,” Gardunia argued that students emerge from school better prepared to be a productive member of our global knowledge economy. Read more of this post

Scalability: How to Take Local Successes in Education to a State and National Level

The following is an event summary from a program held by the  Program on America and the Global Economy at the Woodrow Wilson Center.

As education reform emerges as a key issue for the 112th Congress, the problem of scalability has grown in importance.  On February 2nd Kent Hughes, Director of the Program on America and the Global Economy (PAGE), moderated a discussion with a panel of Einstein Fellows who addressed scalability and argued that there are several methods to replicate educational success from a local level to a national level.  Einstein Fellows, experts in the education field themselves, are outstanding middle school and high school math and science teachers selected to spend a year serving in various positions in the executive branch and the Congress.  The panelists urged teachers and parents to keep students engaged in school by spreading enthusiasm, strengthening personal relationships, and focusing on creative “project based,” or hands-on, teaching approaches.  Some of the difficulties in achieving this include; curriculum standards set from above, an inability to procure funding, and the lack of a method for publicizing award-winning teaching techniques.

The panelists argued that while some teachers have effectively taught STEM subjects within their own classrooms, teaching innovations should be made known to all educators for use around the country.  In order to further these ends, the fellows urged the creation of a national database that compiles the most effective, award-winning teaching curricula, competitions, and after school activities that complement classroom work.  Furthermore, the panelists argued that remarkable teaching innovations should be the subject of more media coverage in order to disseminate best practices and reward outstanding teachers.

Terrie Rust, a middle school technology teacher in Arizona, added a note of caution.  She noted that specific programs and curricula that work in one region, may not work with the exact same degree of success in every state or district that has a distinct student body.  She said that the goal of scalability must be adapted to specific areas taking into account differences in culture, geography, and funding.  An approach that works for one school may not work for all. Read more of this post

You are Invited – Partnering with Business: The Changing Role of Business in Education

Partnering with Business: The Changing Role of Business in Education

The Albert Einstein Distinguished Educator Fellows offer a unique perspective on U.S. schools and educational policymaking; they have been chosen by the Department of Energy to spend a fellowship year in congressional or executive offices based on their excellence in teaching science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) subjects in K-12 schools.

The Fellows will discuss the role that businesses play in the classroom as the United States faces the challenge of ensuring that students are college and career-ready.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

9:00 – 11:00 a.m.

5th Floor Conference Room

Woodrow Wilson Center

RSVP acceptances to page@wilsoncenter.org

Posted by: PAGE Staff

Linking Innovation to Education Standards

With the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) pending, educators and politicians are mulling over how standards, either national or state-by-state, will deliver results and raise student achievements.

Earlier this week Secretary of Education Arne Duncan attended the Virginia Governor’s Education Summit where he addressed the need for stronger innovation in teaching.  While addressing the crowd, he gave a personal anecdote about his how his children, who attend Virginia public schools, learn of the solar system through song instead of a textbook, an example of innovative learning techniques that move away from the “teach the test” mentality.  He went on to argue that this type of innovative teaching will help the country regain its status as an educational powerhouse.

Secretary Duncan has become a strong advocate for advancing national standards as a means to increase student success across the country, as they are pushing for legislation that is supportive of reform.  However, some local officials are objecting to setting national standards.

Virginia governor Bob McDonnell, who hosted the event, argued that he “would prefer that federal rules allow a choice between the national standards or equivalent state test,” Governor McDonnell made the decision not to let Virginia compete in the federally funded Race to the Top program earlier this summer.  Despite the differences in opinion between the two, McDonnell praised Duncan for his “relentless focus on setting high standards.”

At a Wilson Center event earlier this year, a group of Distinguished Einstein Fellows gathered to discuss this very issue.  One panelist, Kirk Janowiak argued that a balance must be found between standards.  “If they are made high enough to be meaningful, then we end up squashing the innovation of teaching, and we end up providing our teachers with scripts,” but continued by adding that if standards are too low  “we open up ourselves to the current trend we have of mediocrity.”

In an attempt to raise the bar in education, Janowiak argued that compromise must be reached between local and federal officials in order to ensure America’s educational success for the future.

Posted by: Michael Darden

Sources: Richmond Times-Dispatch

Photo credit: David Hawxhurst, Wilson Center